Bolton CAMRA shares the frustration of the town’s publicans with the current situation in the town. Even with the huge spike in infections, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that a different regime is required in Bolton than that imposed in the rest of the North West and we have been urging our local MP’s, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham and the Leader of Bolton Council, David Greenhalgh to lobby the government for three things.
- the release of the local lockdown at the earliest opportunity, without prejudicing the infection levels, to bring it in line with the rest of the country so that hospitality businesses can operate on a level playing field with those in neighbouring boroughs.
- to make available details of the additional funding for businesses forced to close as soon as possible so that those who are now facing cash flow problems because of the lockdown are not further disadvantaged.
- a review of the amount of funding available to ensure that hospitality businesses are not left with unsustainable costs which may result in some of our best loved community facilities unable to survive.
CAMRA has received positive responses and all our local politicians are calling for Bolton’s hospitality industry to be brought in line with the rest of the country. CAMRA does not advocate any changes which might lead to an increase in the spread of the virus and people’s health is paramount but it does feel like Bolton has been singled out in this regard. Many people are simply crossing into adjoining boroughs and spending their money there rather than in Bolton. This is not good for Bolton’s businesses and does nothing to restrict the spread of the virus.
Below is a copy of the email, a version of which was sent to each of the local politicians, which sets out our position.
I am writing on behalf of the Bolton Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale. I am sure that you share CAMRA’s concerns over the plight in which Bolton’s hospitality industry now finds itself.
CAMRA understands the dilemma which the government faces in trying to keep infection levels under control and would not advocate anything which might lead to an increase in those levels. Whilst certain pubs have been identified as potential drivers of the increased rates of infection in Bolton, the blanket lockdown does feel a bit like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Even though Bolton had the highest levels of infection in the country, one can’t help feeling, particularly now that the whole country has been made subject to increased yet lesser restrictions, that Bolton seems to have been singled out for the harshest measures. It was particularly disappointing to hear politicians on national television and in parliament yesterday referring to Bolton having been subject to pubs closing early for 10 days, apparently unaware that the pubs are completely closed. It is little wonder that some publicans have posted on Facebook that they feel they have been forgotten.
You will understand the frustration of the business owners who find themselves closed down again having only just got used to operating their premises in a Covid compliant way. I am personally aware of publicans who have made significant investment in facilities to give them a fighting chance of operating a profitable business within the restraints that Covid imposes. Now they have had their opportunity to make a return on that investment suddenly taken away. Restaurants and pubs in the outer areas of the borough can also see their business leaking into the adjoining districts as people make short journeys to the nearest places just over the border which are still open.
I know that additional grants are being made available to those businesses which have been forced to close. My understanding is that this amounts to up to £1500 over three weeks depending on turnover. I do not know whether this is an indication that the lockdown will be lifted after three weeks but in any event, as the furlough scheme continues to wind down, this amount is unlikely to cover the costs these businesses are going to meet under the lockdown. It is also not clear whether those settings that offer takeaways are technically open and therefore ineligible. Furthermore, the Council website says that details of how this funding can be accessed are not yet available which does not help when those costs need to be met now.
The Bolton branch of CAMRA would appreciate your support in the following areas.
- Lobbying the government for the release of the local lockdown at the earliest opportunity, without prejudicing the infection levels, to bring it in line with the rest of the country so that hospitality businesses can operate on a level playing field with those in neighbouring boroughs.
- Asking the government to make details of the additional funding available as soon as possible so that business who are now facing cash flow problems because of the lockdown are not further disadvantaged.
- Asking the government to review the amount of funding available to ensure that hospitality businesses are not left with unsustainable costs which may result in some of our best loved community facilities unable to survive.
Although I am writing on behalf of the Bolton branch, any lessons learned from the Bolton experience would assist CAMRA nationally in supporting pubs across the country if they face similar issues. In particular, more transparency in how decisions to impose such measures are reached would help us understand how we can avoid them in the future. I would reiterate that CAMRA does not advocate any measures which might lead to an increase in the infection levels but I hope we can rely on your support to help Bolton’s hospitality industry survive this current crisis.